Interview: Jim Cuddy

Jim Cuddy

(1999) As Canada’s consummate songwriters, Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy continue to weave the rural experience with the urban one, while applying just the right mix of sentiment and honesty. Their songs are about things that happen to people. With this new release, they open a chapter on a new song and an old approach to their song writing. I spoke with Jim over the phone from his home. Though quiet at first, he was quick to pick up the slack when it came to his music….

Mb: Hey Jim, where you calling from? 
JC: From home, Toronto.
Mb: I see from your website, you’ve got a nice little tour setup for the next few months. 
JC: Yeah, pretty cool tour the usual.
Mb: Is the new record out yet? 
JC: Comes out on the eleventh, next week.
Mb: I got an advance copy, and I’ll tell you I really like it. There’s some fresh new sounds from Blue Rodeo.
JC: Yeah, thanks. (pause)
Mb: So, what do you want to talk about Jim? 
JC: That’s sort of your job isn’t it? You’re suppose to do the questioning, I’ll do the answering. (laughs)
Mb: OK, what do you like most about your job? 
JC: Talking to people on the phone. (laughs)
Mb: And your favorite color is? 
JC: Awww that’s a secret! Not my personal life. No, I can tell you lots about the record. It was really enjoyable to make. This record was a bit like breaking through the clouds and finding some definition in our music, that we haven’t really been looking for over the past five years. I think in the past five years, since “Five Days in May”, I think we’ve been going a bit more impressionistic. Whether it’s through spontaneous recordings or whether it’s through putting in guitar parts, keyboard parts, stuff that creates an impression, creates a mood as opposed to details in the song… you know, the verse and the chorus in a more pop traditional way. I think with this record that’s where we went. We sat down and we went through two solo records, “Tremolo” and then this huge process of listening to ourselves during 72 shows. All that was just so much of ourselves, we definitely wanted a more distilled version of ourselves on this new record. So we sat down with just the four of us, me, Greg and the rhythm section and just worked out guitar structures for every song. That definitely hearkens back to the beginning of the band cause that’s how Greg and I transported the band from New York to Toronto. We just had the guitar parts and the rhythm section and moved up and found some other people to fill it out. Took away the idea of keyboards and pedal steel and whatever else was there and tried to make a song out of the two guitars. And that was the right direction for us, because then we couldn’t just add impressionistic stuff. It all had to be very detailed. As the sculpture took shape, you couldn’t just slap things on for effect. You really had to contour them to fit the song. I think it was good exercise for us. It was a lot more work, but we ended up with something that was different than our catalog songs, as much as having a very different recording experience every time, we understand that these songs we have to play them. We can’t just replace another song just like it in the catalog. We have to do something different. They have to energize, or they have to make us play differently. These songs to a certain extent do. We’re still talking about the same perimeters that we’ve existed in for a long time, but I think that they do”Beggin’ You Let Me In”, “Andrea” they’re different songs for us. And that challenge is fun. You kind of look for that every-time you go out. You look for something different to bring your audience. And something you won’t feel is stale after 70 nights.
Mb: The first four tracks on this CD are definitely different. They do remind me of the first hits… more singable, bigger hooks…. not the same vibe I’ve had off the last few albums. 
JC: A lot more refined.
Mb: More “Poppy”. If I can use that word. Some of these songs could show up on alternative rock radio. No? (pause) You don’t think so? 
JC: I do… the radio things is a strange imposition. It comes down to what kind of band are you. And the word “Pop”. I would say this is a pop record, but I would understand pop as being very carefully constructed songs that use instruments to
Mb: Bring out the hooks? 
JC: Like big band… every instrument will play a single line. You reinforce it with the whole section, but just a single line. It’s working together like Lego pieces. I wouldn’t want this “pop” thing to make it seem like we’re trying to use either drum loops or sing like 98 Degrees, which is the way a lot of people would understand pop.
Mb: I’m think of pop as something simple…”Here’s the melody, here’s the groove”, rather than all kinds of ethereal parts weaving in and out. 
JC: I agree. Everything supports the simple things. I totally agree. That was definitely by design. And it was good to establish that, because by the time we established that in New Orleans. We only took ten songs down to New Orleans, but they were chosen by Glenn our drummer. “These are the ten that work together and you each need to write another song.” Which we didn’t particularly like being told, because we were rejecting five or six songs that we liked, but it made sense. Then, when we got down to New Orleans, you could hear what we were doing and we thought “Oh shoot, It’s easy. I’ve got this song that work…” and we’d work it out on the piano, and it ended up being the first single “Somebody Waits” so… It’s sort of the first time in a long time we really shared this definition of a record. We thought “What do we mean by pop? Let’s have a shared definition and understanding of this so we can move forward.” Musically it’s very therapeutic. Every so often just be very clear about what you’re saying musically